Rampant flooding and mudslides in the wake of the storms destroyed buildings, crops, and belongings in low-lying areas throughout Hinche, Mirebalais, Petite Riviere de l'Artibonite, and Saint-Marc. Moreover, the true scale of the damage is still unknown, as the ZL team is still finding isolated, remote pockets of severely devastated villages throughout the region.

PIH’s partners in Haiti, Zanmi Lasante (ZL), are currently working overtime to help care for those who lost nearly everything—including about 1,000 patients and ZL staff. Meanwhile the PIH Boston staff is working to quickly find and ship the most desperately needed supplies. Although PIH had never intended to be an emergency relief organization, the team quickly discovered that they were one of the only organizations able to quickly access, assess, and begin delivering relief to the flooded areas.

“Our team is able to [assess the situation and immediate needs] because of the strong community network of social workers and community health workers, who are living in the situation so we can get the kind of information that others have no access to,” said PIH Medical Director Joia Mukherjee.

Unfortunately, these assessments have been grim (see sidebar). “The overall numbers for affected people in our sites are daunting,” wrote Mukherjee in an email from Haiti. She estimates that about 10,000 people across four communities were forced to flee their homes (about 1 million have been displaced throughout the country—about 12% of the total population of Haiti). Almost 7,000 people are now living in 25 makeshift shelters supported by ZL. Supplying these shelters with food, clean water, basic medical care, and basic living essentials (clothing, beds, etc.) has become a key priority.


A shelter in Hinche providing a hot meal


A school classroom was converted into a mobile clinic in Mirebalais

Thanks to generous emergency donations from PIH supporters, the ZL team has been able to begin providing these needs. Most supplies thus far have been procured quickly and locally, but within days of the flooding the PIH Boston team was also able to procure and ship a 40-foot long container loaded with almost 9 tons of medical supplies, mattresses, water jugs, and other supplies. An air shipment will rush medical supplies, clothing, water jugs, and water filters down to the ZL team within the next few days, and several more 40-foot-long containers will soon be packed with medical supplies and equipment, water, clothing, sheets and blankets. ZL is also partnering with the Haitian Government and other organizations such as the Haitian Red Cross, the Clinton Foundation, World Vision to bring in needed food and supplies.

The ZL team also quickly began organizing mobile clinics to provide medical care and treat malnourished children. The clinics will deliver selected public health interventions to prevent the spread of disease in the densely-packed shelters, targeting vaccinations for communicable diseases such as measles. The team is also targeting strategies for treating and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases, as ZL anticipates and increase of risky coping strategies in the wake of the storms’ destruction. The mobile clinics will reach out to those who sought refuge on higher ground, those living in remote regions of the flooded sites, as well as those living in the shelters. Earlier this week, a mobile clinic in Petite Riviere saw hundreds of patients, and continued to treat patients by candlelight well into the night.  

Additionally, ZL’s team of social workers are also on the ground and on the lookout for individuals and families who are suffering or at risk of falling ill, households in need of clean water and children who may be malnourished. They are aided by the local network of ajan sante (health agents who provide basic health education including hygiene, childhood vaccination, and nutrition) and other community health workers. The accompagnateurs are also busy tracking down all of ZL's HIV and TB patients in the flooded areas, to ensure that those who need daily medications do not miss a dose. 

The team is now looking ahead to longer-term relief plans, such as housing for the displaced (many of the current shelters are school buildings that will be needed for classes come October). They have also begun creating and distributing “resettlement packages” to help those who lost nearly everything. These packages include food supplies, cooking pots, stoves, water containers and purification systems, clothes, shoes, and school fees and supplies for children. Strengthening the medical facilities in these areas is also a priority, as the coming months will likely bring an influx of patients with flood-related illnesses (particularly water-borne diseases), as well as patients from neighboring communities that had their own health centers destroyed by the floods.

The team is also working to bulk up microfinance, agricultural and food production projects, as well as local infrastructure to give the devastated communities a real opportunity to flourish. “The work has just begun,” says PIH Executive Director Ophelia Dahl.  

[posted September 2008]